Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cheesy Florentine Stuffed Chicken (and a bonus stuffed pasta recipe)

Isn't everything better with cheese? Okay, well maybe not everything. I worked in a preschool for a little bit and there was this little boy would had to have ranch on everything. Literally. Pizza, nachos, even his fruit. Ranch certainly doesn't make everything taste better, just like cheese in your brownies (unless it's cream cheese, of course) might be a little, um, gross.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

My kiddos, probably following in their Italian daddy's footsteps, love cheese. The more the better. They eat the mild cheeses like cheddar and mozzerella but they'll also eat gouda and gruyere.

I'm always looking for ways to incorporate cheese into my dishes. Cheese is easy to use, delicious, relatively cheap, and, in moderation, good for you.

I used to chart what my first born ate every day, just to make sure he was reaching the dietary guidelines for proper nutrition. Now I just hope that somewhere during the day they had their fruits, veggies, and grains, and in doing so try to incorporate good food in whatever I make for them. In this recipe, for instance, I've used low fat cheese, protein filled chicken, and spinach. Dairy, protein, veggies. With a side of brown rice and strawberries for dessert I felt like this might make up for the hot dogs they insisted on for lunch followed by the cookies for snack :)

Mix all that delicious cheesiness together with the spinach. It's quite good on its own, really. I let the kids taste test for their approval.

I know no one likes to see raw chicken in a picture. There's no way to make that pretty. Sorry. But here's a picture of the "pocket" you need to create for your filling.

Fill up the chicken. Don't try to use all the cheese mixture, you'll use it for a pasta recipe in a few nights and thank me for the 2-in-1 dinner idea.

Cheesy Florentine Stuffed Chicken
by Girls in Aprons

4 large chicken breasts
1 15-oz container ricotta (whole or skim)
1 cup shredded mozzerella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 Tbsp, divided
1 tsp garlic powder
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray a 9x13-inch pan.

Using a paring knife, cut a pocket in the side of each chicken breast, making sure not to pierce the opposite side. Place each cut chicken breast in the prepared pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together ricotta, mozzerella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, garlic, and spinach. Using a spoon, stuff the chicken pockets with the ricotta mixture. You will not use all the ricotta mixture. Use it for the following recipe. Brush the tops of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and the 2 Tbsp Parmesdan cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until juices run clear and thermometer reads at least 165 degrees.

Beef and Cheese Stuffed Shells
by Girls in Aprons

1/2 lb ground beef
Leftover ricotta spinach mixture
1 box large pasta shells
1 cup prepared pasta sauce

In a large pan, cook ground beef until browned. Drain. Remove from heat. Add leftover ricotta spinach mixture.

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook large pasta shells for about 8 minutes or until still slightly hard. Drain and cool on an oiled baking sheet.

Using a small spoon, stuff the shells with the meat-ricotta mixture. Place in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Top each stuffed shell with a spoonful of pasta sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melty and the pasta is cooked.

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